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Police Try To Calm Town Frightened By Murder Suspect

October 29, 1988 GMT

GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Police are trying to calm townspeople as they search for a murder suspect with an apparent taste for ″strictly gore″ movies, and authorities promised extra Halloween patrols if he remains at large.

Many residents in the western Massachusetts town of 11,000 people said they would forbid their children from trick-or-treating if police haven’t arrested the suspect, Mark Branch, 18.

Branch is wanted in connection with the slaying of Sharon Gregory, a 19- year-old freshman at Greenfield Community College, whose body was found Monday in the bathroom of her family’s home by her twin sister. Police said she had been stabbed repeatedly.

Using dogs and helicopters, police searched for Branch for the third day Friday in woods in the nearby town of Buckland. Authorities issued a warrant for Branch’s arrest Tuesday after his car was found abandoned in that town.

State police Sgt. Norm Roberts urged residents Friday to ignore unfounded rumors of a second slaying, but he asked them to be careful because the suspect may be armed and dangerous.

″It has thrown panic into a lot of people,″ he said of the rumors.

A video store owner described Branch as an enthusiast of bloody horror films, particularly the ″Friday the 13th″ series that features a character who slashes his victims.

Bob Quesnel of Video Expo 1 in Greenfield said Branch has rented and purchased hundreds of horror videos from his store. ″He rented strictly gore, period,″ he said. ″The gorier, the better.″

The community college canceled a Halloween dance because of Gregory’s death.

Gary Sibilia, chief of nearby Ashfield police, said he is considering calling off the town’s Halloween parade Monday if Branch is not found.

State police said the search has been made more difficult by a growing nervousness in the community and repeated rumors of other stabbings.

Greenfield Police Capt. Joseph LaChance said the department’s five lines ″have been lit perpetually″ with inquiries about the rumors.

Police said they were maintaining a round-the-clock patrol and checking out numerous reports of sightings. But they said there was no sign that Branch was in the area.

″There are thousands of camps and shacks out in the woods,″ said Greenfield Police Chief David McCarthy, noting that Branch could be moving ″from camp to camp, or he could be a thousand miles away.″

Gregory was the third woman murdered in the town in the past two years.

Greenfield High School helped its students cope with Gregory’s murder by offering counseling, said Vice Principal Ann McKenna.

″Everyone still, including myself, is quite upset.″ McKenna said. ″A lot of people knew Sharon. She only graduated last June.″